March 20, 2011: Second Sunday in Lent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we ask You to renew our faith and trust in You, alone. Cause us to cling to Your many words of promise when it comes to this life and the one to come. Thereby, hope, confidence, and Your calm peace will reign in our hearts. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOURCE OF REAL FAITH

TEXT: Romans 4: 1-5; 13-17

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Recall the exact words Satan uttered to Eve when he tempted her away from God. “You will not surely die,’ the serpent said to the woman, ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'” Those words have always fascinated me. That’s because I’ve always had this question: “Why would she and Adam even want to know evil?”

Our first parents knew only good. They were created perfect, holy, and evil-free. They had no inkling of what evil would bring: death, sickness, sadness, natural disasters, and physical and emotional pain. Yes, knowledge of the unknown was what beckoned them. It was held out to them under the guise of being on par with God Almighty. And because their human pride didn’t want to be lesser than God, or under God, they succumbed to the great temptation. Faith or trust in God’s goodness alone was immediately destroyed within them.

“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s the old media slogan for breaking news. We’re fascinated by evil, aren’t we? War, bloodshed, economic downturns, disasters—they all capture our attention. Closer to home, even though we decry it, we actually like to listen to salacious gossip about another—it makes us feel superior. We’re almost, well actually we are, voyeuristic when it comes to evil in this world. And yet, all this badness that surrounds us, slowly grinds our spirit into the dust. It’s heavy. It robs us of joy. It brings no inner peace.

Every human longs for inner happiness. We get small snatches of it at times.—The joy of marrying your beloved, of looking at your newborn for the first time, of the dreams that come with a big job promotion. When we’re feeling very down, we think back to happier times when mom embraced us at Christmas, or when dad first took us to a baseball outing at Fenway. But, those interludes of happiness are quickly displaced by job pressures, or health concerns, or world upheavals—in other words by the pressures of evil upon us.

I

God created us for the express purpose of trusting and honoring Him. When man threw that away in Eden, God didn’t give up His purpose for us. No, because He is 100% goodness, in His loving heart He ordained to rescue us from “knowing evil.” He first promised, and then sent His Son, Jesus Christ to win goodness back for us. He found a way to restore in us the blessings that trust in Him once provided to Adam and Eve. He ordained to link us to His perfect goodness through the gift of faith in His Son and the love that Son would display to the world by His death on a cross.

Today’s lesson takes us back in time to around 2000 B.C. It takes us back to Abraham, the father of God’s people. So, what made Abraham so special? What made him “good” in the eyes of God? After all, he was a sinner, and thus knew evil, just like all of us. Well, Scripture tells us: “Abraham believed and God credited it to him as righteousness.”

To believe, to trust, to have faith—all these are synonyms for the same thing. God has an even more complete description of faith found in Hebrews chapter 11: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Abraham was one of those ancients. He could not “trust and verify” what would happen when he left Ur and journeyed to some unknown land that God said He would show him when he finally arrived. He could not verify in advance that God spoke the truth when He told the 100 year old Abraham and the 90 year old Sarah “within a year’s time you will have the long awaited son I promised.” He could not verify at that time that out of Isaac would come a huge nation, which we know of as the Holy Christian Church. He could not verify that when God promised One of those children born of Abraham’s line would be the Messiah—the Savior of the world and the Source of salvation for Abraham’s soul—that it would actually happen. And yet, all these things, all such goodness along with the blessings it brought, filled Abraham’s heart and became reality. Abraham was sure of what he hoped for and certain of what he did not yet see—because faith, or trust in our gracious God filled his heart. Yes, God’s road to our restored goodness wasn’t human achievements or human efforts, it was and it still is: faith. Complete trust in the loving heart of the Almighty which was promised and now has been revealed (verified) by the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ in our place.

Thus, Paul’s words: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified (declared righteous and holy before God) by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say” ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'”

II

I had a member many years ago who liked to say: “Life is hard, and then you die.” That person was hung up on how human efforts to attain any goodness or joy in this life are doomed to failure and disappointment. Such focusing on human attempts to attain Godly goodness are a negative downer. And living with that as your creed is literally the opposite of Godly trust, isn’t it? “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked (Christ won forgiveness for all), his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Occasionally in life you and I will receive a totally unexpected gift from someone out of the blue. Maybe it’s a long-forgotten aunt who remembered us in her will. Maybe it’s a good Samaritan motorist who stops to help when we’re stranded. Think of how you feel at such times? And undeserved gift is rare and savoring it is delicious. So, how much more the gift of God’s Son dying in our place on the cross? How much more the gift of His undeserved love? Yes, how much more the gift of faith that is created by and through that underserved love? And because this gift of faith comes from God we don’t have to question or fear our future. For “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.”

For all these reasons, true Christian faith is more valid and certain than anything else in life. It is more sure than our senses, our intellect, our understanding of the laws of nature, or our life experiences. This is the truth that lies behind Abraham’s total trust in having future descendents (Christian believers and human descendents) even while he and Sarah remained childless into old age. “He is our Father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not (having many descendents including the Savior) as though they were.” Yes, faith is the one thing God uses to undo our knowledge of evil so that unlike Adam and Eve we can now resist its power. Amen